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3 Feb 2003 : Column 30—continued

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): What is the Government's best estimate of how many Iraqi civilians will be killed or injured if there is a war?

The Prime Minister: We will do all that we possibly can to minimise any civilian casualties. I should say to my right hon. Friend that we have striven hard to avoid the prospect of any casualties at all, precisely by delaying action and allowing the UN process to work. The real casualties in Iraq over the past few years have occurred as a result of Saddam's policies.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): The Prime Minister is surely right to use the United Nations route

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and to ensure that that is wholeheartedly behind whatever action is taken. I hope that he will explain to the French President and, indeed, the beleaguered German Chancellor, that the United Nations' credibility depends on facing up to the threats. Nevertheless, for those of us who are still concerned about the thought processes surrounding potential action, will he explain to President Bush that the danger of quickly settling Saddam Hussein could unleash other terrorism as a result of the destabilisation in Iraq and the knock-on effect that that could have in Jordan and possibly Turkey? Other threats could arise, as he mentioned in his statement.

The Prime Minister: It is true that we have to approach this in a careful and measured way, which is why we went through the UN process to get the backing of the international community for the demands that we have made on Saddam. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, approached in the wrong way, this could lead to misunderstandings—for example, that this is an attack on Iraq because it is a Muslim country, and all the rest of the propaganda that surrounds these issues. I believe that there is now a clearer understanding—I have certainly found this in my discussions with Arab Heads of State—that this is about enforcing the will of the UN. Done in the right way, and with the right guarantees to the people of Iraq, the whole process of disarmament could be seen as a victory not only for the international community, but for the people of Iraq. I must point out that the consequence of not having disarmed Saddam properly, and of allowing the will of the UN to be flouted over many years, is that we have had to put in place a very tough, punitive sanctions regime. Because of the way in which Saddam has operated it—he need not have done it in the way that he has—it has caused the most terrible misery to the people in Iraq. More than half the population is dependent on the oil-for-food programme.

I think that in the end people, not least in Iraq, will realise not just that seeing the back of Saddam is good for the peace and security of the world, but that the first beneficiaries will be the people of Iraq.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): The Prime Minister has spoken on several occasions about the integrity of the resolution 1441 process and his faith in it. To what extent does he think that the President of the United States shares that understanding? In particular, to what extent does the President agree that bypassing the resolution could undermine the credibility of the United Nations?

Following his discussions with other world leaders, does the Prime Minister think that they fully understand the importance of consistently following through on resolution 1441?

The Prime Minister: I think everyone does. I think that what President Bush was expressing was the thought that a second resolution would be welcome for the reasons that we gave, but also—this is important—the thought that, as we have constantly said, the UN path is the way to resolve this. It is not a way of pushing it off.

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When talking to other world leaders, I found that they did understand that the UN process is important. It is important to deal with it, but it is also important that it should not be seen as a way of avoiding dealing with it. I think that, at the moment at any rate, we have people camped on the right ground. It is our job, and my determination, to make sure that we see the integrity of that process through to the end.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Following that last question, may I ask whether there is any difference of opinion, or any difference of emphasis, between the US and UK Governments on the need for—and extreme desirability of—a second UN resolution?

The Prime Minister: No, I do not think that there is any difference between us on that. We want a second resolution but, as the President said at our press conference on Friday, it must be the way of ensuring that Iraq is disarmed. I am afraid that in the 1990s resolutions were passed, but increasingly Iraq ceased to take them seriously.

Before this issue arose in the context of possible military action in Iraq, we were involved for nearly two years in trying to renegotiate the sanctions regime because of Iraq's failure to disarm. This is not an issue that has popped up in the last few months; it is an issue that we have been living with for 12 years.

Let me also point out to the House and the country that every single day about 2,000 British armed forces personnel are engaged in trying to patrol the no-fly zones, and in other activity associated with the whole problem to do with Iraq. Although this is in the headlines now, it has been there for a long time. The reason why there is a certain impatience is that we must not go back and allow the UN to be used as a way of tricking people into parking the issue and not dealing with it. The determination to take the UN route is there for everyone.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I ask a question about US intelligence? I am sure that the Prime Minister will recall that at the beginning of the Vietnam war the CIA gave false evidence about the Gulf of Tonkin, as it now admits. I remind him that more than 2 million Vietnamese died during that war, and that the chemical weapon used by the US, Agent Orange, is still causing deformed babies to be born. More recently, President Clinton ordered the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. In that instance, US intelligence simply got it wrong.

Given the history of lying and incompetence on the part of US intelligence, should we really believe Colin Powell on Wednesday when he presents his latest evidence?

The Prime Minister: I am not here to answer questions about the Vietnam war. Let me simply point out to my hon. Friend that the Vietnam war and Vietnam itself were never subject to a United Nations resolution. As for the intelligence that has come out about Iraq, I ask my hon. Friend to accept this: never mind US intelligence, never mind British intelligence—the evidence that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear, is there; it

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is documented in the UN inspectors' report. I do not believe that the British and American intelligence agencies are not telling us the truth about these things—I think they are right—but we need not rely on that to be worried about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. We need only read the reports, going back for years, about those weapons and their manufacture in Iraq, and the fact that Saddam—uniquely among world leaders—has used them against his own people and against other countries.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): In his statement, the Prime Minister quite rightly drew attention to the real and present dangers of terrorism. When the former chief of the counter-terrorism operations of the CIA, Vincent Cannistraro, says that

does he disagree?

The Prime Minister: I do, if Mr. Cannistraro means in every set of circumstances. I remember that people said something similar to us when Afghanistan came about. It depends on the circumstances. If we are taking action where we are obviously and clearly enforcing the will of the UN, his view is not right. There is a growing recognition that Saddam is not someone we should be defending. What I have said constantly to people over this issue is that the people who will be most delighted to see the end of Saddam are the people who are his first and primary victims—his own people. In those circumstances, I do not believe that it will recruit people to the cause of terrorism, but I say to the hon. Gentleman honestly that what will recruit people to the cause of terrorism is a belief among these fanatics that the will of the international community is weak, that it does not have the determination to confront these issues, and that, when faced with the challenge, we fail to meet it.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the 12 years for which Saddam Hussein has played cat and mouse with UN resolutions. During those 12 years, many hundreds of Kuwaitis have been lost inside Iraq. Saddam Hussein has given no comfort to their families on whether they are alive or dead today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely essential that the UN stand by its mandatory resolutions and hold firm, because it is for the good of all of us that that happens?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The point that she makes about the Kuwaitis, the missing people—there are hundreds of them—is absolutely right. Of course, they have to be added to the thousands of people who have been killed internally by Saddam and to the people who to this day face the most appalling internal oppression, torture and denial of human rights as a result of his regime.

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